Baltimore Ravens fans shouldn't fret yet, because backup QB Tyler Huntley can play

MIKE PRESTON
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley (2) looks to throw the ball during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

Shortly after Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Lamar Jackson reported to training camp in July, it was hard to tell Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley apart on the practice field, especially when they both started running.

And when it came to passing, Huntley had a stronger arm than Jackson. Even on Sunday against the Browns in Cleveland, the two quarterbacks looked similar.

Now, this isn’t trying to start a quarterback controversy and say Huntley should replace Jackson after the Ravens’ 24-22 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but they better hold on to this second-year player out of Utah. There aren’t any quarterbacks in the NFL as explosive as Jackson, but Huntley is close in a few ways.

So, while the Ravens negotiate with Jackson about a long-term contract, it’s good to have Huntley in the back pocket. He is only under contract for this season at a cost of $780,000. He will become an exclusive-rights free agent this offseason, which means the Ravens have to tender him a contract to keep him. He’s proven — so far, at least — that he’s capable of leading Baltimore to victory.

In other words, the Ravens might have to show him the money, too.

Huntley almost rallied the Ravens to victory on Sunday: Jackson left the game with an ankle injury early in the second quarter. At that point, even with Jackson, the Ravens’ offense was dismal and heading further south. A lot of Ravens fans, despite the team’s resiliency this season, probably found other things to do Sunday like grocery shopping or blowing the leaves.

But if you got a chance to watch Huntley in the preseason, you knew the Ravens had a chance, especially against the Browns, who usually find a way to lose. He almost brought the Ravens all the way back and might have done so if the offensive line could pass block better.

After the Ravens entered halftime trailing 24-6, Huntley led three scoring drives to pull the team within 24-22 with 1:17 left. Huntley, undrafted out of Utah, completed 27 of 38 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.

Yes, he committed two costly fumbles, including one that was returned 15 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Myles Garrett in the second quarter. The other stopped a potential scoring drive to open the third. But ball security is something that can be improved.

Ravens prepared to move on, if necessary: Told you, he’s a lot like Jackson. But the Ravens were prepared to move on after Jackson went down.

“It’s never easy, especially watching [Jackson] go down, but we knew ‘Snoop’ [Huntley] was ready,” rookie receiver Rashod Bateman said. “He proved it in the preseason. He proved it in Chicago when he came out on top with the ‘W.’ We have all the confidence in ‘Snoop’, just like we do in [Jackson]. He knows we have his back, just like he has our back.”

Crucially, the Ravens don’t have to change the offense when Huntley is in. They can still use their run-pass options or sprint him off the perimeter. He is able to roll out and throw.

Both are elusive, as evidenced by Huntley’s ability to make defenders miss on a highlight-reel 14-yard gain in the third quarter Sunday. Jackson’s gift is he can cut at full speed. It’s what makes him one of the most exciting players in the game.

But as a passer, Huntley can go toe-to-toe with Jackson. On Sunday, he made some quick decisions as far as getting rid of the ball when the Browns blitzed. That’s been a problem for the Ravens for the past month, but not as much for Huntley.

“I think there were some things early on that we wish we could’ve had back with Lamar in there,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “But obviously, when you get in a situation when you’re down like that, you’ve got to start slinging it — and that’s what we did. We went fast tempo. I think this offense runs really well like that.”

Huntley has led Ravens in past: Huntley was in this situation earlier this year when Jackson missed a Week 11 game against the Bears with an illness. In that game, Huntley led the Ravens to a 16-13 win by completing 26 of 36 passes for 219 yards despite being sacked six times.

But Sunday’s game was different. Cleveland (7-6) needed the win to keep its playoff hopes alive and the Browns have a better defense than the Bears, especially up front. Huntley said he didn’t become comfortable until he fumbled, which led to Garrett’s touchdown.

“Every game is a huge game in this league. Every game is a big task,” Huntley said. “So, we just have to … I knew at that moment, I had to lock in and just give us the best chance to win. We just came up short.

“I think after I fumbled. After that, I was very locked in. I just knew I couldn’t make any more mistakes. So, I knew I had to lock in even more and just do what I can.”

A possible success story: Huntley could become one of the league’s top success stories. He was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent on April 30, 2020, was waived Sept. 5 and signed to the team’s practice squad the next day.

He has played sparingly throughout his time in Baltimore but was 6-for-13 for 60 yards along with three rushes for 32 yards after Jackson was knocked out with a concussion in the Ravens’ 17-3 divisional-round playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 18.

But now, he has turned some heads around the NFL. It will be interesting to see what happens with him in the offseason. If the Ravens invest a lot of money in Jackson, the offensive line might still be a problem next season. Huntley might be needed again.

“You see it — you see how well he played. He was slicing and dicing, man,” Andrews said of Huntley. “Obviously, we wish we would’ve won this game. But for ‘Snoop’ and this offense and this team, we fought — we fought to the very end.”